Game Design Articles

Game Books

Project Art Gallery

For a long time now I have wanted to write a tutorial about buying art commissions from artists on the internet.

The images here are from an upcoming game about Pirates, Space Pirates!

In 2007 I began working with a Canadian Artist on the Galaxy Pirates RPG project.

Sketches and Artist's renderings by Anthony Cournoyer, I asked Anthony if I could show some of the Work In Progress stuff to give people a behind the scenes view of the process and he agreed.

The piece below is for the skills section of the book, its supposed to demonstrate that a lot of a computer hacker's job is sitting around staring at the screen and drinking soda. For all the details in the background and things going on in the picture it was a long way from concept to finished piece. The Space Elf hacker girl already had an established outfit and look at this point, that process was relatively straightforward, I'm going to do articles where decisions had to be made and maybe that will be useful to you.

Hacking is boring.

Everything in the first sketches is based on this blurb from me in an email.

I spent some time Saturday working on how much art I NEED for the full sci-fi book, and NO time sorting out how much I already have available. But there are some pieces that stand out anyway as missing.

Every book needs a skills section, and some of the skills need pictures to demonstrate how they work. One of the skills is Computer Use, and one use of it is Hacking Security systems.

So I'd like to see a picture of the Space Elf Pirate chick hacking on a computer, and looking cute doing it. It should be a 1/4 page shot with foreground and background, unless you come up with a very interesting full page image, in which case I can use it to begin the Skills chapter.

Initially Anthony gave me something that looked like this. For those of you not familiar with the concept of thumbnail sketches, they are quick sketches that try to get the point across while not taking long to do and not going into very much detail. You work small on purpose, and usually you get more variation than this, maybe three different poses and compositions altogether. At this stage the client will pick his or her favorite and ask the artist to proceed.

Sometimes though the client doesn't like any of it, it might be their own fault for not being clear enough, so maybe they go look for more reference images or inspirational pictures that will help the artist figure out what they really want. Even if its wrong a thumbnail sketch can tell you something important, it tells you what you don't want.

If you are going to like the sketch, you will know it right away. If you don't you can ask the artist to do some more, maybe drop the two you hate the most and do two variations on the one you sort of liked and the artist can try new things based on your feedback. So here Anthony has tried to change just the seating, because I think I liked the background some, and he was trying things without throwing away all of the work done so far.

We played around a bit more, I wanted something facing the viewer, but not facing the camera, if that makes any sense. This view was supposed to be like we were looking through the computer screen.

For whatever reason that didn't exactly work, but we were so much closer.

This one is closer, you'll see she's drinking from the straw, but she's more intrigued than annoyed, parts of this one I like better than the final, but most of the people I showed this to had no idea what her leg was doing in the picture. So we tried to fix that.

You might see here the background and foreground details were locked in at this point but while that came along, the star of the show had some issues. Her leg, the one that is crossing over the other one, the knee is weird, the thing is thicker than her entire waist, for as much clarity as it brings to what she's doing with her legs, the leg itself has now caused problems.

For anybody that thinks they recognize the bottle, yes its supposed to be BAWLS. So we decide to go back to the old legs.

If you just want to have a nice piece of artwork from an artist you like, this should help. You will want to think about the character the pose and maybe if you want a background. You will want to have pictures to show the artist and money in hand to pay for the job. If that's all you want you can stop reading now.

If you want to buy artwork for the RPG industry, keep reading.

Ok other things to touch on, Anthony and I had worked on a lot of pieces together at this point.

-I paid for everything on the back end because I was a known entity, many artists will want some money upfront and the balance on delivery. I did only receive low resolution sketches until final payment, that is fine with me and is a way many artists use to get paid.

-I normally pay Anthony for full page artwork which comes out to 2,000-3,000 pixels on a side, though he would have charged me less for 1/4 page artwork with less detail as it takes less time for him to create. This is important because a lot of RPG art is normally only shown as 1/4 page in the final product anyway.

-The final image was done in full color, it would have been cheaper if I wanted it done in Black and White. If you are going to print in B/W there isn't much reason to pay extra for the Color work unless you want to use it on your website or maybe as the cover of a product.

I didn't make the same mistakes on this image as I did on the one in the first article.

-I ordered a piece of artwork for a project (the Galaxy Pirates core rulebook) knowing exactly how it was going to be used in a final product people hopefully will pay money for. That means the choices about size, and color or black and white had a relationship to the project budget.

-I did have a project in mind, I still wasn't certain how many pages it would be, which would tell me how many pieces of artwork I would need. I did know how many skills there were going to be and I wanted something for each of them to show the skill in action. This isn't really "in action" but it sits right next to the Computer Use skill in the core book. The Disable Device skill has an action shot of our girl here trying to unlock a door while her accomplice trades shots with some Law Enforcement types.

-This time there -was- a project, but unlike lots of adventures and supplements, a Core Rulebook would still be hard to compare to other products available for pricing and sales information which means I don't know how much money I might make back on it.

-Which means there are still speculative risks involved with the project. I had a steady day job at the time and it was starting to dawn on me how expensive this thing just might get. If you want to make money in the RPG industry you need to think about this stuff too.

I hope this helps some of you out there looking to buy pieces for yourself or for your own RPG projects.


Designer at